Friday October 20, 2000
"Left Luggage," after a prologue set at the outbreak of World War II, shifts to Antwerp in 1972. Chaja Silberschmidt (Laura Fraser), ostensibly a philosophy student, is a determined free spirit typical of the era. She's headstrong, independent and impetuous, and when she comes home to visit, she and her parents (Maximilian Schell, Marianne Sagebrecht), who are Holocaust survivors, sometimes clash. At just the moment Chaja is asserting herself, her father is beginning to feel the past wash over him.
Before being overtaken by the Nazis, Mr. Silberschmidt managed to bury two large suitcases with his family's treasures in the yard of a "safe house" in which he had found refuge for only one night. He previously had been so preoccupied with rebuilding his life after the war that he had no time to think of buried treasure, but now that he's slowed down he's becoming obsessed with digging up Antwerp backyards.
Meanwhile, his wife has dealt with the dark past by never mentioning it and doing her level best to stave off all painful memories. Consequently, their daughter has scant personal frame of reference for the Holocaust and has little sympathy for her father's efforts.
This is about to change, for Chaja, in need of a job, accepts the position of nanny to the five children of a Hasidic couple, the Kalmans (Isabella Rossellini and Jeroen Krabbe, the latter of whom also directed the film). Chaja's adjustment to her new job is formidable, but she persists. She and Mrs. Kalman manage to bond, despite their widely differing views.
Chaja is especially drawn to little Simcha (Adam Monty), who has normal hearing yet does not speak, almost certainly on account of his thundering, overbearing father. But in Chaja's nurturing company the 5-year-old starts to talk. Through her concern for Simcha, Chaja begins discovering her identity as a Jew, a process that will have profound impact upon her and her relationship to her parents.
With an adorable child at its center, "Left Luggage" becomes disarmingly warm and even a little folksy at times, but Edwin de Vries' script proves devastatingly deceptive. Its modest, though solid core gives way to unexpected starkness.
As you would expect from such proven veterans, Rossellini (who received, for her quietly powerful performance, one of the four prizes "Left Luggage" won at the Berlin Film Festival), Schell, Sagebrecht and Krabbe, plus Chaim Topol and Miriam Margolyes in supporting roles, are most effective.
Fraser, who resembles Julia Roberts, is a little too arch, even for the initially flouncy Chaja, but rises to the occasion as the film assumes an increasingly somber aspect. The persistent evil of anti-Semitism is embodied in David Bradley's exceptionally nasty concierge at the rundown apartment house where the Kalmans live.
Left Luggage, 2000. Unrated. A Trident Releasing presentation. Director Jeroen Krabbe. Producers Ate de Jong, Hans Pos and Dave Schram. Executive producers Craig Haffner and Brad Wilson. Screenplay by Edwin de Vries; based on the novel "The Shovel and the Loom" by Carl Friedman. Cinematographer Walter Van den Ende. Editor Edgar Burcksen. Music Hennie Vrienten. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Laura Fraser as Chaja Silberschmidt. Isabella Rossellini as Mrs. Kalman. Maximilian Schell as Mr. Silberschmidt. Marianne Sagebrecht as Mrs. Silberschmidt. Jeroen Krabbe as Mr. Kalman. Adam Monty as Simcha Kalman. Chaim Topol as Mr. Apfelschnitt. David Bradley as Concierge.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun